From Sinterklaas to dreidels: how do you celebrate in December?

Christmas on December 5th? We all know that Christmas in the U.S. and Singapore is celebrated on Dec. 25, but it turns out that this date isn’t universal. The Danish and the Dutch have their own dates to celebrate and their own unique traditions.

One country that is famous for celebrating Christmas on another date is the Netherlands. To many children in the Netherlands, the “most important day during December is the 5th when presents are given out by Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas),” as stated on whychristmas.com. St. Nicholas’ day is actually on the 6th of December, but the major celebrations are held on the 5th of December.

Celebrations start on the second Saturday of November when Sinterklaas travels to a city in the Netherlands.

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Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten walking around the cities to give presents out to children (Creative Commons)

Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid, Spain, and every year, he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland so as many children as possible gets a chance to see him.

Senior Caroline In De Braekt, who annually participates in Dutch Christmas celebrations, said, “To me, it reminds me of my upbringing and family back in Holland [which] continues to be part of my holiday family traditions.” According to Caroline, children are supposed to put a shoe out in front of the fireplace with a bowl of carrots and water on the 4th of December. The shoe is the children asking for presents and the water and carrots are supposed to be for the horse which St. Nicholas rides on rooftops from house to house bringing presents overnight. The morning after is like Christmas – families gather and open presents from St. Nicholas.

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As a part of Sinterklaas celebration, families put out a shoe with a carrot by the fireplace (Creative Commons)

Sinterklaas travels with his servants called “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Peters). When they come to shore from their boat, all churches ring bells for celebration. Sinterklaas also “dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. Every town in the Netherlands has a few [Sinterklaas helpers] who are dressed in the same way and help give out presents,” according to whychristmas.com.

Caroline said her “family sits around together on the 5th of December with treats sent from Holland (chocolates, special candies, etc that go with Sinterklaas)” and opens their presents together.

Another country that celebrates Christmas on a different date is Denmark. According to whychristmas.com, “Different types of Advent candles and calendars are popular in Denmark. [These calendars have] fun ways to countdown to Christmas Eve. There are 24 small gifts for the children in the calendar, one for each day until Christmas Eve.” Christmas is always celebrated on the 24th of December and normally people dance around the Christmas tree after an evening dinner.

Junior Cedrick Paulli, an SAS student who celebrates the Danish Christmas called the Jul, commented by saying, “We celebrate in the evening of Christmas Eve, gathered around the table to have a big dinner and on the 25th, we celebrate again by going to church.”

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The Danish Christmas, Jul, celebrating by dancing around the Christmas tree (Creative Commons)

He continued, “It’s meaningful to me because my whole family gets together and we all sit down and have a really nice dinner. It’s usually very hard to do that on regular days because everyone is always so busy, so it’s very nice to sit down and enjoy each other’s company.”

In the evening, an elaborate dinner is eaten with the family. The meal usually consists of roast pork, roast duck, roast goose or stuffed turkey with potatoes, caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and plenty of brown gravy. Cedrick also described that most families open presents on the 25th but [his] family normally opens them on the 24th, because that is what a lot of Danish people do.

But not everyone celebrates Christmas. There are plenty of students who celebrate Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, the most famous and important Jewish holiday, is also celebrated in December, from Dec. 6-14.

Although some people who celebrate Hanukkah also celebrate Christmas, junior Freddie Shanel said her family sticks to one holiday. “To me, Hanukkah is a great time to reconnect with the Jewish community. [All] of the activities are based on having fun, and it’s also a time when my family recalls traditions, like making chocolate/marshmallow dreidels or clay menorahs.”

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The menorah, used to celebrate Hanukkah (Creative Commons)

She also described the differences between celebrating Hanukkah in Singapore and in her home city, Las Vegas. “Celebrating in Singapore is a bit different, mainly because we’re older and the community is smaller. We still set out decorations and make menorahs, but instead of the whole community, we normally invite a few close friends to share the evening. It’s still lots of fun, but in a different way.”

Whatever you celebrate in December, let it be filled with light, laughter and joy.

Author: Ashley Hyun

Ashley Hyun is a second year reporter for The Eye. She is a senior and it is her 7th year at SAS. Ashley was born in Korea but has lived in Singapore for 11 years. Her hobbies include listening to music, hanging out with friends and watching movies. She can be contacted at hyun35537@sas.edu.sg.

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